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Qualia Computing? In brief, epiphenomenalism cannot be true. Qualia, it turns out, must have a causally relevant role in forward-propelled organisms, for otherwise natural selection would have had no way of recruiting it. I propose that the reason why consciousness was recruited by natural selection is found in the tremendous computational power that it afforded to the real-time world simulations it instantiates through the use of the nervous system. More so, the specific computational horse-power of consciousness is phenomenal binding –the ontological union of disparate pieces of information by becoming part of a unitary conscious experience that synchronically embeds spaciotemporal structure. While phenomenal binding is regarded as a mere epiphenomenon (or even as a totally unreal non-happening) by some, one needs only look at cases where phenomenal binding (partially) breaks down to see its role in determining animal behavior.

Once we recognize the computational role of consciousness, and the causal network that links it to behavior, a new era will begin. We will (1) characterize the various values of qualia in terms of their computational properties, and (2) systematically explore the state-space of possible conscious experiences.

(1) will enable us to recruit the new qualia varieties we discover thanks to (2) so as to improve the capabilities of our minds. This increased cognitive power will enable us to do (2) more efficiently. This positive-feedback loop is perhaps the most important game-changer in the evolution of consciousness in the cosmos.

We will go from cognitive sciences to actual consciousness engineering. And then, nothing will ever feel the same.

27 comments

  1. Will · September 4

    I wonder if there have been any experiments involving multiple subjects in the same room to see if having a very similar environment, similar drug amounts, similar number of trips, similar diet for at least 24 hours, same approximate size, weight, age, gender, education and socioeconomic background of participants, will cause similar trip experiences. The simpler the room the better, maybe put a simple geometric object on a wall, or something for the mind to tesselate, and then compare trip reports. I would anticipate that there could be some striking similarities based on a previous experience. I took a little LSD trip with a girlfriend about 30 years ago. It wasn’t very hallucinatory, just a small dose but noticeable. We were both in bed looking at the ceiling light at the same time when we both suddenly looked at each other and asked each other if we noticed the light changing colors. It appeared that the white incandescent bulb was changing from yellow to pink to green to blue back to yellow, pink, green, blue in that specific order in a specific timing pattern of 1.5 seconds per color. The frequency and intensity of each color displayed were symmetrical. We did this several times separated by 30-60 minutes and the pattern persisted, though not as brightly when we were at the 6 hour mark. The next day we looked at the same ceiling light and it was just yellow, and didn’t change colors at all.

    I am interested in how multiple “experiencers” might be able to engineer nearly identical trips. This would be interesting to me because we define reality by comparing what we see with what others see to see if there is agreement. Any striking similarities must be based on reality, but maybe it’s a reality which we aren’t aware of unless in a heightened state of consciousness. That color pattern and periodicity must surely have had a physiological or physical basis to be seen by two people.

    Has an experiment like this been carried out and published to your org’s knowledge? It might be neat to include not only similar people but also add people who are quite different from each other to see if they still share any aspect of their hallucinations. There are any number of iterations of this kind of a study that could be interesting.

  2. David Q · March 7

    You say: “When the network of qualia achieves a certain level of intelligence, the mind itself becomes self-interested and develops a theory of self. This is a felt model, and consciousness can become fully identified with it. Presumably the biochemical properties of one’s brain mediate whether one can or not unidentify from this self-model.”

    An ancient question undermines this: Who or what is having the theory of self? What identifies and unidentifies and what does it identify with? Some chemicals? Where is this mind and this identify and indeed this self interest?

    Calling something a network of qualia is different from a network of neurons- how? How does a mind have a theory of self?

    How can I think about myself thinking? Do I have a metatheory of self that thinks about my theory of self which emerges somehow from my network of qualia which resides in exactly what neurons experienced by who/what?

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  5. jordanmicahbennett · February 11, 2017

    Perhaps nonsense:

    (A)
    This qualia article is absent scientific/mathematical description. (and thereafter, such is perhaps nonsense)
    In contrast, artificial consciousness is perhaps on the horizon: https://github.com/JordanMicahBennett/God

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    (B)
    The human brain is roughly 10^16 to 10^18 synaptic operations per second.
    There exist small, efficient, cognitive models that compute 10^14+ synaptic operations per second.

    If humanity is not purged, mankind shall probably engineer human level intelligence at 2020’s boundary. (Moore’s Law)
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    (C)

    See my paper/code: http://www.academia.edu/25733790/Causal_Neural_Paradox_Thought_Curvature_Aptly_the_transient_naive_hypothesis

    NOTE: This work intends to describe a casual neural fabric, that composes abstractions/experiences, by amalgamating basic laws of physics, as a cortical basis for neural computation.

    • jordanmicahbennett · February 11, 2017

      Edit: casual should be causal

    • David Ball · February 4

      Error: 404 for your link…..D.

  6. congrats dude · January 29, 2017

    we love u lol your almost like a demigod

    • jordanmicahbennett · February 11, 2017

      Why be a ‘demi-god’, when one may become a god?

    • jordanmicahbennett · February 11, 2017

      EDIT: Humans are perhaps already Gods.

      I define God using science, to be any probably non-omniscient entity with the ability to engineer artificial intelligence, that probably exceeds its creator.

      In a similar way that artificial intelligence engineers itself,

      …we humans constantly self-engineer our brains, such that enhanced versions of ourselves are probable.

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  8. John · August 3, 2016

    According to Karl Jansen MD(“Ketamine: Dreams and Realities”), John Lilly is supposed to have taken LSD over 500 times in the isolation tank. He was also a heavy user of cocaine under long periods of time, when he was exploring Freuds theories on sexuality. Apart from this, he drank a lot of alcohol in periods. Most people only know about his ketamine/lsd usage.

    He was still taking ketamine at the age of 83(!!!).

  9. R Christopher Aversa · June 22, 2016

    Interesting ideas you’re developing here. More bright minds should be applying science to these issues, but alas the study of consciousness and qualia is among the softest of the sciences – subjective and vague to the extreme. I’m wondering if you have already or plan to conduct any formal studies based on your ideas. I apologize if you’ve addressed this somewhere else in the blog.

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  12. Stinkman 5 · February 23, 2016

    what’s it like being a computer

    • Bill Vanyo · February 23, 2016

      If it’s like anything, we’ll never know. If they have experiences, their having them doesn’t affect their behavior, which is all we can know.

  13. valkyrie456 · December 17, 2015

    Oh my goodness, in so many ways I am on the same philosophical wavelength as you. This blog was the perfect thing for me to discover at this point in my life. Are there any projects in consciousness research you need help with? I’ve got a degree in neuroscience and a job as a code monkey, so I’d likely be qualified to assist.

    • algekalipso · December 18, 2015

      <3 I do have some ideas we can talk abour 🙂

  14. ToSee · November 29, 2015

    The crux, as I see it, is that consciousness produces qualia. As it produces physical systems in order to enact the experiences. There is no “natural selection” or “recruitment” just a generation of experiences – some of which are physical systems and events.

    • algekalipso · November 29, 2015

      “…consciousness produces qualia”

      This is a possibility, given some metaphysical background assumptions.

      Under panpsychism with quantum phenomenal binding (the ontology that I explore the most) consciousness encompasses all of possible qualia, and it nothing but qualia unfolding.

      But in an Berkelian idealist view, as well as in dualism, consciousness can be thought of as separate from qualia, and perhaps its “generator.”

      Panpsychism with quantum coherence for phenomenal binding implies that everything in this universe is made of qualia, and that the equations of physics are describing nothing but the very behavior of qualia itself. Given the extraordinary explanatory power and experimental verifiability of the postulates of quantum mechanics, physicalism is nowadays a very plausible theory of the universe. But physicalism without consciousness, as in bare materialism, could never actually explain why we are conscious. On the other hand, physicalism idealism can.

      And in this view (with these background assumptions), the human mind was selected for through natural selection, to specifically allow a macroscopic quantum coherent world-simulation within the mind/brain.

      See physicalism.com for more details.

  15. Bill Vanyo · June 23, 2015

    “Qualia, it turns out, must have a causally relevant role in forward-propelled organisms, for otherwise natural selection would have had no way of recruiting it.”

    What makes you think qualia are a product of evolution, or unique to biological organisms?

    • algekalipso · June 23, 2015

      > What makes you think qualia are a product of evolution[?]

      A product of evolution? The hypothesis is not exactly that qualia are a product of evolution. Instead, that qualia was *recruited* by natural selection because using it is inclusive-fitness-enhancing. We wouldn’t say that electrons are a product of evolution. We might say that such and such chemical reaction only arises thanks to evolution, but saying it is a product of evolution may be misleading. In the case of electrons, they existed to begin with, and evolution has recruited them to instantiate patterns. And all chemical reactions have always existed as a possibility, which again, evolution stumbled upon and recruited those that were useful.

      Likewise for simple and complex qualia. If panpsychism is correct, every wavefunction in the universe is trivially conscious. Complex bound experiences composed of many ontologically united qualia are far more interesting and couldn’t have existed without an evolutionary process. The case of simple qualia is like that of an electron, whereas minds may be more like the case of a complex chemical reaction. In both cases you require the pre-existence of the building blocks (simple qualia and electrons) and the existence of a mechanism of action to construct the complexities out of the building blocks (chemical reactions require the possibility of chemical bonds, and complex experiences require the possibility of phenomenal binding).

      The main hypothesis is that phenomenal binding itself is the source of the inclusive-fitness-enhancing properties of consciousness for biological organisms. Only through phenomenal binding you can solve the saliency-attention mapping discussed in the article “Getting Closer to Digital LSD.”

      > [O]r unique to biological organisms?

      This is because we do not know of any mechanism of action for phenomenal binding using any sort of “classical abstraction” of information processing systems. If panpsychism is true and phenomenal binding is implemented via quantum coherence of conscious wavefunctions, then we would at the very minimum require a quantum computer of a very special kind to actually create artificial conscious minds.

      Tentatively, there is evidence to suggest that bound consciousness resides in the Thalamus, whereas the cortex behaves as a classical computer (which uses neural networks in a way similar to deep belief networks).

      • Bill Vanyo · June 23, 2015

        I’m curious, how close do you think we could get to emulating human intelligence and seemingly conscious behavior without also recruiting qualia?

        It would be amazing if we could create that “quantum computer of a very special kind to actually create artificial conscious minds”, in such a way that only the consciousness could be turned on and off, leaving all the other traditional computational information processing intact. What difference would we see?

        I’ve often wondered about David Chalmer’s notion of “philosophical zombies”. They are said to be, by definition, indistinguishable from conscious humans, but definition aside, by the spirit of the idea, would they ponder questions about consciousness and ineffable qualia the way I do? There are certainly thinkers who seem to dismiss all the questioning of the mystery of qualia and consciousness as misguided nonsense. I’ve entertained the thought that they might actually be devoid of qualia, but gravitate toward a more likely explanation is that the problem, when looked at, does hint of panpsychism, which in turn hints of, perhaps to some minds, pantheism. I don’t think that connection is warranted, but I think others are suspicious. The old Arab adage about not letting the camel’s nose into the tent, lest you end up with the whole camel.

        • Noah · June 17, 2019

          “would they ponder questions about consciousness and ineffable qualia the way I do?”

          Yes, by definition, they would.

          “I’ve entertained the thought that they might actually be devoid of qualia”

          I stopped reading Consciousness Expained when Dennett claims that there are some vivid moments of experience, but most of the time, we’re not really experiencing much, and then he gives the example of driving somewhere and not remembering the trip. My conclusion was that he wasn’t conscious and that’s how he had such an easy time explaining it.

      • Bill Vanyo · June 23, 2015

        Another question, and I know this borders on the bizarre, but consider how qualia might be recruited in more effectively producing behaviors conducive to survival (as that’s the criteria for natural selection). Is it that known physical mechanisms harness qualia somehow in implementing “mindful” behavior, or is their some component to qualia, like so-called “free will”, that has it’s own interest in survival of the organism? Were qualia recruited by physical mechanisms, or was it the other way around?

        • algekalipso · May 22, 2016

          Very good question.

          When the network of qualia achieves a certain level of intelligence, the mind itself becomes self-interested and develops a theory of self. This is a felt model, and consciousness can become fully identified with it. Presumably the biochemical properties of one’s brain mediate whether one can or not unidentify from this self-model.

          I believe that we can imagine and indeed, embody, very philosophically sophisticated Tulpas. We can imagine and then assume the role of highly intelligent and philosophically realistic beings that are compassionate towards the rest of all sentient beings. We can, in a sense, imagine and embody the Gods that people have imagined for Millenia. That said, we will probably discover that the state-space of possible experiences is a lot more vast than first imagined. Predicting how self-models will evolve and, ultimately, which ontological qualia will become the norm, is still a very difficult problem. A very worthwhile problem, too.

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